On Tuesday I was at Langara, and I saw a posting on a job board there asking for native English speakers to participate in a linguistics study being done at SFU. "That sounds interesting," I thought; so I took one of the contact information paper tendrils from the bottom (I was the only person who had done so) so that I could e-mail them later.
(As you know, Vancouver readers
, 'SFU' is Simon Fraser University, one of the two big universities in the city; the other is UBC. I realized today that I actually have a habit of thinking 'UBC' to myself when I mean 'SFU', probably both because it's the more euphonious of the three-letter university names and because UBC tends to pop up a lot more in my life. I managed not, quite, to do this out loud to anyone. SFU always makes me think of my Sociology professor, who, in a discussion of academia seen as elite and set apart from the rest of society, was amused that it's actually on a mountaintop
Today, as a direct result of taking that piece of paper, I went to UBC^H^H^HSFU for the very first time. I was struck by the architecture, which seemed marvellous and impractical, giving the impression of being a maze even when directions were fairly straightforward. There were courtyards and landings with stairways leading off in improbable directions, and walkways, and many-storied buildings with outside entrances on each of their floors. It was like being in some relative of Ico's castle. Naturally and immediately lost, I managed to enlist a voluble lady university employee of some description to direct me and to walk me part of the way; she had no idea where the phonetics lab was, personally, but once I pulled the location out of my e-mail on one of the computers there ('RCB 7301'), we were able by careful scrutiny to find where I was to go on a map painted discreetly on one of the interior walls, so I was in the end only fifteen minutes late.
The experiment itself involved sitting at a computer whose fans laboured alarmingly; the 'a' on its keyboard had been labeled with a large 'L', and the number pad's '5' with a large 'R'. I was told to rest my forefingers on these. The computer would flash a sentence in English (like "The girl rides a bicycle"), and then a pair of pictures, and I would press the appropriate button to choose which of the pictures , the right or the left, better illustrated the sentence.
I figured out what was going on pretty quickly, which was that the sentence would be either in the present or the past tense, and then the pictures would illustrate each of these; there would be one, for example, of the girl speeding along on her bicycle, and one of her getting off of it, looking exercised. Once I realized this, of course, I started to second-guess myself, despite my best intentions. It is probably precisely to limit this tendency that I had a three-second time limit on choosing, but that led to another problem, which is that I would sometimes choose something by accident just because that finger was feeling particularly twitchy. I stumbled, corrected, and stumbled in the other direction; sometimes, and maybe most times in the end, I managed to go with my first impulse. One thing I noticed, which was a genuine reaction and not a studied one, was that I often tended to want to choose the present-tense picture for the past tense sentences; that is, that when I read, "The grandmother watered the plants," what I picture is the grandmother who is industriously watering, and not the one that, it's implied, has put down the watering can and maybe died since. This might be common sense, or it might be because I've read a lot of fiction from an early age.
After that the woman running it asked if I had an extra fifteen minutes to participate in another experiment, and I said that sure I had, so she put me in a soundproof booth, with a microphone, and showed me cards with words on them which I was supposed to say. (At the beginning I said, "I am Speaker 308," and before each word I said, "Now I say...". These were my instructions and I held to them.) It felt very strange inside the booth; the sealed-up silence sort of hummed high-pitched in my ears. The words were all 'p' words: 'paw', 'pa', 'pat', 'pet', 'pit', etc.; the release form said that they were studying perceptions of vowels.
So, that was actually a lot of fun. In the end, I spent about half an hour there, and they gave me ten dollars for it; it's somewhat embarrassing how significantly this increased the amount of money I currently have in the world. I think I'm going to start selling things on eBay, not least because I want to buy some people birthday presents this month.
On my way to SFU, I thought, 'I wonder if seeing this campus will make an enormous change in my future, because I will fall in love with it and decide to go there, instead of to UBC, eventually, as I currently dimly plan'. Then I thought, that isn't going to happen, because I thought of it beforehand, and things like that surprise you. This is an example of the ways I think when I'm not bothering to be carefully rational; actually, I think these ways then, too, but I ignore them. Anyway, I indeed had no epiphanies about the future, although I liked the campus a lot.
On the way home I saw an unusual number of neat t-shirts (my favourite: "the rock is a culture"), people (including an unusually skilled and enthusiastic girl busking with her guitar outside the Granville station), advertisements (what on earth do they mean by that new one promoting the transit police?), and errata (a sticky label attached to a bus stop that said, "Stop consuming animals!"). Maybe I was just looking.
The weather was also very nice.